Although he did lose to the same player two years ago, then there were some real injury concerns—concerns that were evident to anybody watching.
This year, however, Rafa has been in good form, reaching the final of every Masters tournament, showing he's fit enough to play. However, the confidence levels appear to have completely evaporated.
"Seriously, I am not confident,"
"I am not playing well enough to win this tournament with the level today. It's true. You have to be realistic"
"Today I am not playing well enough to win this tournament"
"I think I'm still playing a little bit too anxious."
Firstly, I think Nadal should be applauded for being honest enough to say exactly what he feels. Some players may shy away from this and give run-of-the-mill answers. For anybody to write him off would be laughable; people questioned him a few years ago and he responded by winning the French, Wimbledon and US Open.
The difference between that Rafa and now is Novak Djokovic. Djokovic seems to have got to many players mentally, but Nadal would not have expected to be so affected by his outrageous form.
Yes, he won at Madrid, but some put that down to the hard Madrid courts. But to win again in the slower Rome courts was astonishing.
If Djokovic continues his level of form, Nadal may find it extremely difficult to convince himself that he can beat him.
There are other factors that really play into Djokovic's favour over Nadal. The decision by Roland Garros official to switch to the Babolat balls is puzzling still. Why they felt the need to do this, I am yet to be convinced.
All the other clay tournaments switched to the ball previously used by the French Open to provide continuity for the players, only for the main tournament to change. Whether it's because of money or maybe a dislike from the French over Nadal's dominance is irrelevant now, but the balls certainly don't favour his clay-court game.
If Nadal can win this year's French Open, I think it will be his best win at this tournament considering the changing factors and Djokovic's form.
Nadal really needs to score a clay win over Djokovic before the clay season is done, if only for his own confidence—and what better occasion than the final!